Karen Quilts Life

Karen writes about life as a Quiltmaker in Austin, Texas; surviving in an empty nest, marriage, cooking, gardening and (did I say?) Quilting...

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Starting Anew - Celtic Sostice, Bonnie Hunter, and Linda Franz: InkLINGO!

OK... it's time to start something anew... I've been exploring Linda Franz's "INKLINGO" product recently, and was intrigued by the idea of printing cutting and sewing lines for relatively basic quilt pattern pieces directly onto the fabric

In November, Linda announced a cooperative "Quilt A Long" type of event with Bonnie Hunter of Quiltville. Entitled "Celtic Solstice", a "mystery quilt" would be introduced each week for several weeks. Traditional cutting/piecing techniques would be presented at Quiltville, with Inklingo based techniques presented weekly on Linda's site.

I downloaded the information and decided to join in the online fun...

Here's the palette I chose to use. I have a request from a nephew for a Green and Brown quilts, so this should serve well! The center fabric swatches are my choices. I used my stash of Kaufman's Kona Cotton to choose colors (who needs paint chips with 200+ colors of fabric!?). on the left is Bonnie's "Celtic" colors, on the right Linda's somewhat Irish colors.

I make no claim to having anything to do with anything Irish... I just have to use Brown and Orange!

Clue number one was introduced two weeks ago... and, I am elatedly putting together the first "clue # 1" part of the quilt. Hopefully I an catch up in the coming weeks.

Though, it's that retail season of the year when my life get's a lot more busy than usual... so, I have no idea that this "mystery" will be solved on a timely basis. The reveal will likely be anti-climatic for me!

In September, we moved from our home of almost seven years, into a fairly nearby neighborhood... only a mile away, but the sewing room is still in a bit of chaos... here's a Saturday evening of piecing - to the strains of my favorite radio show: KUTX.FM's "Twine Time"... you can webcast this... and you should! It's one of the few really great long time vintage radio shows left.... www.kutx.org.

You can see how little I care for order as I put  pieces together... I'm putting together a little "Tri Recs" block - a left and right half RECTANGLE on either side of an almost equilateral triangle... TRI-Recs! Though I am using the Inklingo technique. Sewing and cutting lines printed on to the backside of the fabrics, using my little old 4200 model HP printer! Happy so far with the results - Making up 188 blocks... the mystery continues tomorrow. I have an entire SUNDAY off, and plan to do some serious sewing! Though I've decided to take this first (and last) big project of 2013 on at an easy pace... I'm sure the piecing will go into 2014... as I've seen clues #2, and #3 just yesterday... I will not be hurrying to make up the next blocks!

On we Go....

A" fini"to my musings of the summer of 2013. My mother passed on to her next life on September 6, of 2013. She passed on in her sleep at her nursing home. I received the call (that no one wants) at about 2:30am that morning, a caring voice telling me that my mother had "passed"....

We gave her remains to burial at the Arlington National Veteran's cemetery... where Dad will follow when his time comes. Hopefully not too soon. He is recovering from loss, as well as any 83 year old can, after a 60 year relationship, here in Austin at our home. I am grateful of the time I have been given to spend with him here...

- I am ready to move on with MY life, and it's time to talk about the Quilts in my life.... maybe more about Dad soon...
- December, 14, 2013.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

60 Years of Love for Nancy and Harold...

August 12, 1953. Nancy Lee Fillette and Harold Willis Alexander tied the knot in Alexandria, Louisiana. Mom turned 18 two days later, Dad was 22.
Dad was a young,  Air Force recruit, who met my then 16 year old mother as she was selling books at  the base shop. It must have been love at first sight, as they met the year before, and had already had a long love by letter communication relationship. Dad was shipped off to Germany for several months of duty. He wrote letters to her EVERY day during his tour of duty there. It was the height of the Korean War, Dad was happy to be in Germany, he said to me recently that "no one with any brains wanted to do service in Korea",so he joined the Air Force, hoping to learn to fly. Alas, his eyesight (and height - 5'7") precluded him from flight school, however his experience as an auto mechanic led him to jet mechanic school, and ultimately to Alexandria for training, where he met Mom.

I have many of those love letters, lovingly wrapped in ribbon, each stack with a daily conversation. Hard to imagine in today's world of minute to minute communication.... a letter written in response to a letter that may have been written weeks ago! They are wonderful, but private correspondence, I've only had the courage to read one or two. They show the very beginning of a close, loving relationship... the start of 60 Years of Love.

They went on to marry in Alexandria, and moved back to Dad's family hometown (then)of Waco, Texas, where he went to school at Baylor University on the GI Bill after his service. He graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts, majoring in the fine arts. His chosen profession, that of sign painter was one that he'd already become proficient at since the age of 14, learning the skill from his Uncle Neill. They went on to have three children, myself the oldest in 1955, my sister Donna,  coming shortly in 1957, with my youngest (and the last) David, in 1963.

Mom and Dad took up residence in the booming young city of Dallas in the late '50's, with Dad working for many years at one of the biggest sign shops in town, McAx signs. he went on to a 40 year career, eventually working under his own name (HWA Signs) until well into his 60's. Mom, a woman of the 50's, settled into the life of a housewife, working only a few years after the kids left home, with both of them retiring in their 60's, to a home in Desoto, and later Grand Prairie.

10 years ago, in 2003, we celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary, with friends and family, at their church home of 30 years, The Oaks Baptist Church (formerly 1st Baptist Church of Oak Cliff), in Grand Prairie. They were serenaded by the pastor, Bill White, a nephew and  serious "sound alike" of his uncle, Jim Reeves. His rendition of Elvis "I can't help falling in love with you" was incredible. Everyone had a fabulous time, and who has a good time at a 50th wedding anniversary? I treasure the pictures of Mom and Dad holding hands, cutting the cake, and having a GREAT time!

Now, my father lives with me and my husband Joe, here in Austin. Today, Dad, went out with Joe to select a little bouquet of flowers for Mom, and a special dessert for her anniversary dinner tomorrow. You see, Mom now suffers from Alzheimer's disease, and, now in the later stages of the disease, must live away from Dad at a nearby nursing center where she receives 24 hour care that he can no longer provide. Dad loved her so that he continued to try to care for her as long as he could - until November of last year, when he became overwhelmed by the needs of careing for a seriously ill partner after too many years of suffering through this horrible disease.

Dad and Mom both moved to Austin, where Dad could live more comfortably with us, and Mom, could receive the 24 hour care that she needs. Dad visits Mom two or three times a week. While his heart is breaking, he still does his duty, and visits her. He is one of the few faces she still reliably recognizes, and he tries to provide some small token, a dessert, a hug, holds her hand, a few hours of company, to brighten her day.

It is a tough duty chosen for him, not chosen himself, as she is often not happy, and no longer behaves as the woman he knew and loved for so many years. It is something we would all hope we would not have to choose for ourselves - to have to be with someone who, for all intents and purposes, is no longer the one we knew, the one we wrote those love letters to so long ago, the one we fell in love with 60 YEARS AGO! Although sometimes she seems almost a stranger, she still responds to his touch, or a kiss, and shows that she still recognizes him as someone important to her, though she can no longer communicate that to him in a knowing way.

Tomorrow, we'll visit Mom, try to give her an enjoyable lunch, a gift, and maybe, just maybe, we'll enjoy a small bit of recognition or a few minutes of clarity and connection with her. But most of all, I will be celebrating those wonderful 60 YEARS of LOVE, and will honor that love, in what ever way I can. I hope that by posting this story, that you too will know what is possible, that two people can indeed live and love together for 60 years, and that you'll feel just a little bit of that love in your life too.....

If you wish to send your love, you can send a card or letter to Nancy Alexander, c/o Gracy Woods Nursing Care Center, Room 208, 12021 Metric Blvd., Austin, Tx 78758-8616, or stop in an visit any day.
If you stop by on a Monday or a Thursday, you'll probably get to visit with Dad too!
  - Karen Alexander, August 12, 2013

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Thank you Russ...and Good Travels

Where to start when you learn of the passing of an (almost) lifelong friend? I'm not sure exactly when I met Russ Barnes, but fate threw us together in Austin, Texas, as Supervisor (Russ) and Assistant (me) in the early '80's (1981 I'm thinking... but who's counting anymore!) Russ was hired as Marketing Director, and I as Marketing Manager of America Cable and Telecommunications (ATC) of Austin, Texas. He recently from Jacksonville, and I from a similar job in Orlando. Together, were were put together as a team. Russ with a bit more experience, and me as a young gal in what was still very much a man's game. Both of us were ready to take on the world and were excited to be involved in what was (at the time) one of the country (and worlds!) largest cable television systems - only Manhattan was larger...!

Russ mentored me, and taught me the ropes of the business world (my education was really in the fine arts, with experience from a graphic arts perspective... I was "wingin'" it, and learning by doing. We became fast friends. From presentations to convince the new "boys from Time Inc." that the new name of the Austin Cable company could NOT be "American Cable TV of Austin" (It was named Austin Cablevision as we proposed - after all, AUSTIN is not really "American".... it IS TEXAS!).... to opening the very first "Cable Store" in a new major mall in Austin, our projects were always BIG, and ever successful. Both of us went on to successful careers in cable and telecom, though Russ continued to try to steer back to his first love - writing. I stayed in the business for over 25 years...

 During those early years in Austin, Russ was married, and I had a partner, as we say today, (or person of the opposite sex living together as it was fashionable to say at that time) - Joe Heidelmeier. But Russ and I had a special relationship - one that I think few men and women ever have outside of marriage or a sexual relationship...he taught me many things about live, and especially how important it is to ENJOY THE JOURNEY....I still use what I learned from Russ almost every day...both in business and in life!

When Joe and I tied the knot, Russ and his wife Susan stood up with us along with my parents.

When my son John was born in 1987, Russ wrote a poem - a real, honest to goodness poem in celebration of his birth.  It hangs on my wall in my sewing studio today. Continued inspiration from one who always inspired. Whether it was inspiring creativity, or just giving worldly advice for work or relationships. Russ always gave me help, a ready ear, and ideas, IDEAS, to move my thinking forward, always in a creative way.

Long after that brief, 2 and a half years in Austin working together, we continued our relationship... always as good friends... keeping up with each other's successes and difficulties in business and in life. In recent years, when my Son took a trip with his High School Chorale to perform at the National Cathedral, Russ again stood for us, attending the concert, and walking with John afterward in the Cathedral garden, when we were not able to attend the event in Washington.

We were blessed to have Russ spend some time in Austin with us again a year ago or so - good for all of us, as he was able to again visit the hill country that he had also grown to love. Some writings of his visit there can be found at his blog:  Travel With a Twist. Russ even did a day trip to my favorite annual event (a sort of hage to Mecca for me, a quilter), the Houston International Quilt Festival in 2010.

I probably could come up with many anecdotes about all the fun we had working together -  there is just too much, but I will honor him by sharing his poem, written upon the birth of my son, John, Heidelmeier, born August 23, 1987. To my knowledge, it has never been published, but I hope you will enjoy it as I have, and as I will continue too... a little piece of Russ of my own to share and keep.
Wherever you are Russ, thank you... you enriched my life immeasurably, and will ever be missed.



Among the central Texas hills of Oak,
Caliche, Juniper, and springs that soak
The ancient ruins of arrowheads; Now add
All ranches: Goldthwaite down to Goliad,
Along the barrier islands swept with brine,
The tall Palmetto, sand, and Southern Pine,
By bays and channels off of Melbourne, Cape,
And Lauderdale where folks are all ship shape
For netting Grouper, Mullet, and Blue Gill,
In towns like Richmond, Vegas, Chapel Hill,
Where dishes zap and feeder-cable sings'
In all these spots, the mega-message rings,
"Now Jupiter is juxtaposed with Mars,
An hombre named John Gray now roams the scene
Incarnate here in Austin new and clean
By Karen and by Joe. Now look out towns,
This John Gray Heidelmeier will make his rounds."

Russ Barnes
August 23, 1987


Thursday, January 31, 2013

5 Things You Don't Know about this Quilter...

I'm thinking there are many things you could conclude from a diligent search of my posts, both here, and abroad on the wide wide wolrd of the internet, but today's request to post 5 "unknown" things abouto myself has prompted some soul searching. Here they are!:

1. Not totally hidden, but currently my day to day life work has been entirely taken up dealing with my Mom's care in a nursing home - she has Alzheimers, and is in "stage 5"... meaning, she sometimes knows me, and sometimes doesn't! She's mobile, but barely, and still is verbal... but her communication is often garbled. The challenge: enjoy her existence without judging, sadness, or fear... helping her to enjoy her own existence and feel as good as possible TODAY and in THIS MOMENT... She now lives in HER WORLD and the key is to try to enjoy that. Life continues.

2. Along with this, is helping my Dad to deal with this tragic circumstance, (he is five years older than Mom and NEVER expected this type of situation) and enjoy a newfound relationship with him.  I always felt closer to my Dad than my mom,we have a creative bent in common, and I hate to see him give up his life to try (in vain) to be a caregiver to her...

3. I have an exceptional addiction to speed, and a Red Miata which feeds my addiction. Up next:perhaps time to try my hand (foot?) at some amateur SCCA racing.... they PROMISED me a Jet Car... I wanted to learn to fly - but I'm stuck on the ground!

4. Today's visit to the "Common Threads" Quilt Shop in Waxahachie, Texas was one of the best "eye Candy" shopping experiences in many, many months... I HIGHLY recommend!

5. This really isn't so unknown, but, I can think of almost NO quilting projct that could possibly more rewarding than making a baby quilt for your local quilting charity... I try VERY hard to make a baby sized quilt EVERY month for the charity efforts of my home quilting guild: Austin Area Quilt Guild.Lately, I've been making "strip" quilts of my very vintage and NOT modern Kona colors!

6. (Who cares if I go one more it's MY BLOG!)... I really love the creative ethos of the "Modern Quilt Guild"... though I.  also really resist the urge to be cynical... after all, what could possibly be MORE modern than any quilt I made in 1969!?? Bring back Feminism I say.. and let's make it STICK this time. It's way past time for a Woman in the Oval Office!

7. I LOVE vintage sewing machines, and have been collecting, restoring, using and trading them for about 15+ years now. My favorite: the Model 15 Singers. Most often used: a pristing Singer Featherweight that is a joy to take to a workshop. And, my best find: my husband paid $5.00 for a Singer model 31-15, the "Tailors" machine - a professional 40 pound monster that eats through ANYTHING and is a joy to use for free motion work of any kind! It really needed a paint job, so now it is RED (of course) to match my car!

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Piecing a Modern Armadillo

Great good fun this month.

Decided a couple months ago to enter a contest. The Modern Quilt Guild (www.themodernquiltguild.com)  did a call for quilt block entries for a raffle quilt. To be raffled off concurrent with QuiltCon, This new national (international?) organization of "modern" quilters is holding it first annual meet up right here in Austin in February of 2013, and I recently joined the local Austin Modern Quilt Guild. I guess I'm fueling my Geminic nature by playing in both the traditional quilt world that I know so well, and now the "Modern" quilt world. So I thought it appropriate that I enter the block challenge.

I decided the block needed to be "Texas-centric", and if possible somewhat "Austinish"... one of the first things to come to mind was the Armadillo. An animal somewhat unknown much outside Texas and the Southern US, but one that as come to symbolize Austin to some extent. In Austin, the armadillo is of course an almost prehistoric animal found typically dead on the side of the road, or (more often) mentioned as the name of an iconic music venue - known as "Armadillo World Headquarters" -  long closed, but symbolic of Austin's Texas music roots.

The rules were surprisingly specific (IMHO) for what should be a somewhat non-traditional design. The bloock needed to express the modern quilt esthetic, and be entirely pieced... no applique, which likely would have been my first construction choice for putting a critter on the block!

Not one to reinvent the wheel, I searched my library for an animal picture, or even a block pattern that might be adapted for piecing, I recall seeing various pieced animal blocks in a couple of my quilt block "history" books... animals blocks were very popular in children's quilts from the late 1920's until about  WWII.

I found not only a block, but specifically an Armadillo Block. It was not quite the right size, but certainly adaptable with a few changes and the addition of the QuiltCon logo colors...It was found in a 1986 book called "Creature Comforts" by quilt historian Barbara Brackman, and quilter Marie Shirer. The book rediscovered "Animal Blocks" from a number of historical quilt pattern sources, and presented them as "alphabet" blocks... the book is still available on Amazon, and worthy of addition to your quilting library!
 Here's a link...  http://amzn.to/WqHbTR

The design of the source design was for a single color, and the proportions didn't fit the requirements for my challenge block size, so some modifications were necessary...  Here's how the design ended up:

I felt like he really, REALLY needed an embroidered eye, but the rules said NO embellishment or applique, so the armadillo remained somewhat blind!

The block challenge was curated by Elizabeth Hartman, a Modern Quilt author (Modern Patchwork), and MQ blogger: www.ohfransson.com

In September, I was happily informed that my Dillo was to be included in the raffle quilt. And today, I received the happy view of the finished MQG raffle quilt - complete with Dillo - sitting in the lower right hand corner of the quilt top. Elizabeth apparently agreed with my assessment that 'dillo needed an eye, and she added not only the eye, but the date for the quilt in fine black embroidery.

Here's the finished quilt top - complete with dillo....

Here's  a link to the Modern Quilt Guild Blog with additional pictures, and Elizabeth's comments about my block. Can't wait til I can buy some raffle tickets - would be so nice to win this quilt eh?

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Workin' for a Living'...

First apologies to any single (and it must be single) reader that may be waiting oh-so-patiently for another post from this writer about Quilting, Life and such...

It has been way too long. Please accept my apologies for the almost unforgiveable 6 month lapse.

Let me reassure you that life, and quilting continue to go on, perhaps at a greater pace than ever before!  I must add too that "work"... I speak now of that "work" that we must all do to provide the means to quilting, pay the rent, fill up the tank - the work that may or may not be our greatest pride, or something that we wake up anxious to do each day... has taken a new turn for me.

In the past work was, well a bit too important part of my life. It was, well, almost a reason for being, something I looked forward to as, well my raison d'etre - that which defined my relative success, well being, and well, just darned important to my good spirits.

That changed fairly recently. Due to circumstances somewhat (though not totally) beyond my control, my work a day has become, well, just a work-a-day... something I will likely continue to do because I must, not because I WANT too.....What a difference a day makes.

But, be that as it may, I will try to focus on my quilting, and life... work, well, it just has to be - otherwise, we don't eat - or at least not well!

So what's on the sewing machine?  A "show" quilts - finishing up a quilt top that was, actually the first work I put together in Houston after I began re-discovering my sewing roots. A 1930's Sunflower quilt, I found the pattern in one of my earliest books acquired as I began to research quilting patterns. Called "Sunflower" it's  a variation of the old Dresden Plate Pattern...

With the deadline approaching for the September AAQG quilt show, I was growing a bit desperate - none of my recent UFO's (unfinished projects) really seemed appropriate for a "Wildflower" themed show entry... I turned to some older works and was rewarded with an almost forgotten "Sunflower".

Adding some "Blanket Stitching" to the top - then on to the quilting....This one's for me....

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

A Trip Back in Time... Sewing a "Portrait"

Happy 2012... another year!  Rather than a list of resolutions, a list of UFO's (unfinished quilting objects) to be tackled, I think I just decided to dive right in.
I want to continue honing my quilting skills this year, and am going to continue taking workshops from our AAQG (Austin Area Quilt Guild) speaker series. I've always benefited greatly from the offerings. On Sunday, I attended a workshop by Lola Jenkins, on Portrait Quilting. And it turned out to be not only a good exercise, but gave me some reassurance that skills long unused can be resurrected.

As a child, I remember admonitions that you'll never forget "how to ride a bike" or "how to use a hammer"... etc. I once learned the technique of rendering a portrait, in pastels, watercolor, and even the talent of cutting a silhouette from paper. I wish I could say this lead to a career in the arts, but alas, these talents were buried away, largely unused in my business life that ensued.  I learned and used these skills for 3-4 years in my late teens, as I worked for a subcontractor at Six Flags Over Texas, a "theme park" in the Dallas area. The contractor provided artists for "Art studios" located around the park.

As an "artist" I did quick portraits, in pastels, and watercolors of park visitors who were cajoled into taking 10-20 minutes of their day long park visit to sit for a portrait. Often the motivation was simply to take some weight off their feet and sit down for the time it would take! Young high school and college students were recruited for this largely summer work. Anyone who exhibited enough ability to make a decent line drawing during the job "interview" was hired. A short class on portraiture and the quick technique and we were on the job. I enjoyed the work, and got to be pretty good - if you could catch an individual's defining characteristics, you could end up with a line of people waiting for your work. As commissioned work, the money was good - much better than the usual teen work fare, and it kept me in college tuition for several years...so adapting those skills to that of my current tool (the sewing machine) and technique (free motion quilting) seemed natural.

Throughout the class, I was pleased to see that my old skills of not just drawing, but working on the human face were not lost. Here's the original picture, and the first result on fabric:

The exercise gave me some ideas on working in a little different style - more like "sketching" with the machine rather than just doing outlines.  It is exciting to see the picture emerge.
Here, you can also see my pencil work on the fabric that serves as  my guide for the sewing. I doubt I would ever get comfortable "drawing" directly on the fabric without pre-drawing, but who knows... if I got comfortable enough with the tools and my skills - it might be possible... stay tuned!

For those wondering what's going on here, it's really not as hard as it looks. I "Photo Shopped" the digital picture above into a"posterized" photo to reveal critical outlines. Printed to 8.5 x 11 inches in B&W, I traced the outlines for stitching in fine Sharpie (above) and pencil (version two below). 
The prepared fabric was  stabilized with a fusible interfacing, then layered with a thin cotton batting, and a backing layer. No pinning or basting. Then the drawn lines are sewn over in black thread with black bobbin - using free motion technique.

Overall, I'm pleased so far, though getting those eyes right are always a big challenge, but very important to success.

For more on Lola Jenkins work, visit her website: www.lolasdesignerquilts.com I would highly recommend her for anyone compemplating doing more "out of the box" quilting. A self-taught quilter, she isn't bound by all those "rules" that long time quilters have floating around in our ethos. Her unabashed enthusiasm for her art, and for sharing it others was an inspiration. Her personality was refreshingly different from the usual, more sedate one more typical of those of the past. I applaud the guild for going out on a limb to showcase a talent that doesn't fit the more typical quilter mold.

It's good to get out of the box - even if sometimes it means digging deep to pull out some new/old skills.

Happy New Year Y'all - may your 2012 be full of discoveries and re-discoveries!